The final show of the first American leg of Snarky Puppy’s Immigrance tour was held at Brooklyn Steel, an old warehouse that was converted into a concert venue. A lot of the band members were living in New York at the time, so it was essentially a backyard show! The 1,500-capacity audience cheers, hollers, and claps excitedly throughout…what else would one expect from a New York crowd? The banter is just as entertaining as the music at times – Michael says some funny things about Milwaukee, New Zealand, and the fans’ expectations of a typical Snarky Puppy show. Longtime Snarky Puppy percussionist Keita Ogawa sits in for a few tunes – definitely “Semente” and “Shofukan,” and possibly “Xavi.”
Even Us – This pensive, melancholy tune sages the room and prepares the crowd for an immersive listening experience. It begins with just Mark Lettieri on guitar and Justin Stanton on piano. Mark holds it down with some spacey chords and Justin holds back on the melody ever so slightly. Zach Brock delivers a poignant violin performance, and Bobby Sparks adds some nice organ melodies as well. Jason “JT” Thomas and Marcelo Woloski lay down a quiet but steady groove. Once again, the awesome horn section of Chris Bullock, Bob Reynolds, and Mike “Maz” Maher shines with its rich, warm harmonies. When the B section drops, Bobby switches to the Moog for some trippy sounds. Marcelo adds some metallic colors with jingles or finger cymbals (maybe he’s playing a riq?) before going to the timbau. Chris solos on soprano sax, and begins with a long note before scaling the register. Unfortunately, some feedback issues occur throughout his solo. After the violin and horns play the melody in unison, the whole band drops out for the final bars except for Mark and Justin.
Semente – Marcelo Woloski and Keita Ogawa introduce this tune with a brief percussion call-and-response. After some freeform riffing, they lock into a tight baião groove to set up the rest of the band. (I think Marcelo is playing the timbales & snare and Keita is on the congas, but I’m not sure judging only from the audio.) After the classic dual bass and piano lick, Chris plays the flute melody while Justin plays block chords. Zach and the horns play some great harmonies, and Mark fills in with some stellar counterlines. Justin takes a Fender Rhodes solo and goes off. He goes way out there with some super interesting note choices and several nimble melismatic runs. Justin’s playing reminds me of the late great Chick Corea: he takes the listeners on a journey of highs and lows, but he also leaves room for them to pause and catch their breath when necessary. Chick would be proud. Afterwards, we get a recap of the previous sections before the band hits the coda. Mark plays some serious pentatonic funk underneath, and the keyboards simmer slowly during the fade-out.
Bigly Strictness – Mark turns the overdrive to 11! Michael dials up the earth-shaking sub-octave bass, and JT smacks the daylights out of his deep snare and cymbal stacks. After the horn section’s opening statement, Bobby conjures up a short but sweet Castlebar clavinet solo. Lots of wah and pitch bend here. Next, Maz takes a fuzzed-out trumpet solo that sounds like something out of the psychedelic rock playbook. Maz’s incomparable technique is on full display here – he hits some screamers and plays some VERY scary runs. I bet there are plenty of guitarists who strive to play those riffs the way Maz does. Eric Clapton would be proud. Once things settle down, Zach freaks out on violin. He uses a gritty overdrive effect and really stretches! Starting with some tied whole notes (eight counts) and crescendoing to frenetic tremolo, Zach builds a wonderful solo that Don “Sugarcane” Harris would be proud of.
Tarova – Justin delivers the goods with his Prophet synthesizer, and Michael uses the synth bass for the Metrople arrangement of this classic Snarky Puppy tune. Mark lays down some clean rhythm guitar, and JT provides a heavy backbeat on his stacks. Marcelo adds some colors with his tambourine and cowbells. Bobby gets a moment, and makes the most of it. The G minor blues has never sounded so good! To top it off, he holds WAY back behind the beat during the melody. Mark adds some very twangy, resonant harmonics during the horns’ melody and then plays a duet with Bobby handling the Moog. For the solo, Chris blows the audience away with his bright yet boomy tenor sax sound. (Is that why he’s nicknamed Boomtown?) He wastes no time in showcasing his dynamic style with plenty of chromatic runs and squealing altissimo. Lenny Pickett would be proud. Soon everyone bails except for JT, and we get some sax & drums! The band wraps up “Tarova,” omitting the percussion feature. After a huge ovation, Michael League greets the audience, thanks Breastfist for opening, and has a hilarious exchange with a fan about New Zealand politics.
Flood – Michael changes the set and asks Mark to start the next tune. Mark plays a lyrical solo in E major that segues into “Flood,” arguably one of Snarky Puppy’s most recognizable tunes. He throws in a lot of embellishments against the major chords, including 7ths, flat-9ths, 11ths, and 13ths! You can feel the SWAG pouring out from your speakers or headphones – Jeff Beck would be proud. Justin plays some high-pitched soft synth pads, Marcelo riffs on the bongos, and JT keeps time with his cross-stick and ride cymbal. Zach, Bob, Chris, and Maz play the melody with great timing and control. Then the rhythm section gets the main groove going. Michael plays a very pointed, jagged bassline that James Jamerson would be proud of. The bridge in alternating E major-E minor has a nice flow to it…Mark’s undulating arpeggios make me feel like I’m floating on water. Justin goes off on his Prophet synthesizer for a few minutes —once again, he braves the difficult 7/4 meter and cranks out a phenomenal solo with loads of pitch bend and sextuplets! I’m amazed by how Justin cranks out solos of equal greatness on ANY keyboard instrument he plays. During the solo, Bobby adds some nice organ stabs, Mark does his rhythmic chopping, and Michael holds the rhythm section together. Then JT gets a brief drum solo in the new 10/8 meter (or 5/4 depending on how quickly one counts) over Mark’s arpeggios and the horns’ sustained notes. He builds slowly with some snare and tom figures, while keeping a consistent tempo on his ride cymbal. Before long, he gets more experimental. After the violin and horns drop out, Mark continues the arpeggios while Bobby fiddles with the Moog. Finally, JT and Marcelo have a fiery percussive exchange before everyone hops back in for the funky slow closing. The crowd goes nuts after the last chord.
While We’re Young – Bobby leads with his trusty clavinet as Michael and JT support him. The horns deliver the melody as Justin plays a string patch on his synth. Zach doubles the horns and guitar throughout the tune. Then Bobby wows the crowd with a fantastic clavinet solo. He works with the sparse rhythmic accompaniment and creates a brilliant overdriven soundscape full of freakish pitch bends and insane chromatic riffs. George Duke would be proud. Marcelo keeps time on the triangle, Justin re-harmonizes some of the chords, and Mark adds the perfect touch with his slide guitar.
Bad Kids to the Back – During the opening, JT sits in the pocket. Michael tosses in some tasty bass riffs, and Bobby swirls the organ more than a cup of frozen yogurt. Then Michael introduces Bob Reynolds, who steps up to the plate and hits a home run. In this solo, Bob relies on smooth long tones, broken triplet rhythms, and the entire range of the tenor saxophone to deliver his message. Every one of Bob’s solos is meticulously crafted and masterfully executed…there is no such thing as a wasted note in his playing. Chris Potter would be proud. Finally, JT solos over the syncopated bass & organ vamp and Mark adds some decadent fills. Needless to say, JT kicks ass. He starts with a soft double-time shuffle which gives way to a full-fledged shredfest. Lots of snare drum work and heavy tom rolls here! Dennis Chambers would be proud.
Palermo – Bobby kicks it off with the atmospheric organ figure before Marcelo plays the 12/8 chacarera rhythm. Justin adds his straight-ahead Rhodes groove on top, and Mark plays eighth-note triplet subdivisions. Maz plays the melody with support from the other horn players and Zach on violin. Once the B section begins, Bobby shifts to the clavinet and locks into Michael’s bassline. Maz takes some time to wail on his trumpet, and he goes all-out with some bebop licks and piercing high notes. His bright sound cuts through the mix like a hot knife through butter. Afterwards, Maz plays the solo melody backed by Marcelo, Michael, and Justin. Bobby stirs up all the feels with a moving organ passage, and the rest of the band echoes him. As they fade out, Marcelo defies logic with an intricate, polyrhythmic solo. The audience claps in time (I assume Michael led the clapping). He keeps the bombo legüero groove steady while rocking it on the cowbells, high-pitched tamborim, and timbales. Jamey Haddad would be proud.
Xavi – Michael teaches the crowd how to clap the 4:3 polyrhythm. Then he makes a joke about difficult music that gets an exuberant reaction from the audience…which is not what he expected! The tune starts off as usual with Chris’s flute part and the rhythm section’s tight-as-hell groove. But then the “spy theme” guitar riff goes missing! I don’t know if there was a technical/soundboard blunder, or if Mark forgot to play it…either way, it’s a bit surprising. Later, Mark redeems himself by quoting the missing lick mid-solo (to my amusement)…and then he spits out some wild diatonic and pentatonic riffs. Then Zach goes HAM with a ballsy wah-effected violin solo. Chris plays the melody on soprano sax during the 4:3 clapping section. The band segues into the final solo section where Justin quickly flexes on the Rhodes. This solo is a bit more laid-back than his earlier outings, but it’s still a wonderful moment. To me, it sounds like Keita Ogawa plays the congas on this tune while Marcelo handles the mounted percussion rig. The audience claps over the outro, and Michael plays the krakebs with Snarky Puppy’s drum tech Mason Davis. This outro is super clean and very well-executed.
Shofukan (Encore) – The Pups return for an encore! After Michael introduces the entire band and crew (and makes a funny remark about not playing “Lingus”), Mark plays the opening to “Shofukan.” After Justin plays the dark trumpet melody, the percussionists (including Keita) lay down a Middle East-influenced backbeat, with small hints of Afro-Cuban clave. Then Bobby whips it out on the organ and delivers a sensational solo. He adjusts the drawbars for a fuller sound, and also builds up the intensity and pacing of his solo. As I listened, I came to the conclusion that the Hammond B-3 organ might just have the fullest sound of any electrically-powered keyboard instrument ever. For the “sing-along” part, Michael’s funky bass, Bobby’s distorted clavinet, and Mark’s solid arpeggios propel the band. As the horns play the chorus, hundreds of people sing it note-perfect. After a crazy drums-and-percussion duet, Michael leads the crowd in a final sing-along to the horn chorus to close the concert. So ends the first U.S. leg of the tour. Five more months to go.
This is an excellent show, made even better by Michael’s hilarious banter with the crowd! The band sounds relaxed and energetic, and they’re fired up by the Brooklyn crowd too. Just a few days later – 106 hours, according to Michael – a reconfigured Snarky Puppy lineup would travel to Europe for a full month of shows. More on that to come in future reviews! Also, I name-checked ten famous musicians who preceded Snarky Puppy…it’s too bad that those musicians never formed a supergroup, but honestly Snarky Puppy is the next best thing. My selected standout tracks from this show would be “Semente,” “Bigly Strictness,” “Flood,” “Bad Kids to the Back,” and “Shofukan.”
- Michael League (bass & krakebs)
- Bob Reynolds (tenor sax)
- Chris Bullock (tenor sax, soprano sax, flute, & alto flute)
- Mike “Maz” Maher (trumpet & flugelhorn)
- Justin Stanton (keyboards & trumpet)
- Mark Lettieri (guitar)
- Zach Brock (violin)
- Bobby Sparks (keyboards)
- Marcelo Woloski (percussion)
- Keita Ogawa (percussion)
- Jason “JT” Thomas (drums)
- Matt Recchia – engineering and sound (front of house)
- Michael Harrison – monitors
- Nic Hard – mixing
About the Reviewer
Hi! I’m Doug, and I really love Snarky Puppy. I first learned about this supergroup in 2014 when some college friends introduced me to their albums Groundup, Family Dinner Volume 1 and We Like It Here. I was amazed by the caliber of talent and how all the parts (melody, harmony, rhythm, and accompaniment) came together seamlessly.
Then on July 31, 2015 my family and I went to the Newport Jazz Festival. Snarky Puppy was one of the featured artists along with Christian McBride, Chris Botti, Arturo Sandoval, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Jon Faddis, Lucky Peterson, Kneebody, and Jon Batiste & Stay Human. Over the course of ninety minutes, Snarky Puppy played a lot of material from WLIH, including the ultra-popular “Lingus.”
I was absolutely awestruck by the infectious grooves, the wild jazz harmonies, and the mind-blowing solos that each band member took. That performance changed my life. Although it is still the only Snarky Puppy concert I have attended, it certainly won’t be my last. I hope to see them perform in the United States very soon, once things start to open up in greater capacity after COVID-19.